How fuel poverty is still an issue during the summer

The majority of campaigning on fuel poverty is done in light of the excess winter deaths and wider health problems living in cold homes causes.

But fuel poverty also affects people in warmer weather.

As Dr Harriet Thomson, a Senior Lecturer in Global Social Policy and Sociology at the University of Birmingham, writes:

“If the effects of the heatwave are predicted to be so severe and/or prolonged they will extend outside the health and social care system. In other words, the extreme heat could cause illness and death, including among those with no pre-existing illnesses.”

Indeed, during the last major UK heatwave, the NHS was at crisis point and during the same year, in Japan more than 130 people died and 70,000 were rushed to hospitals; while in Quebec, the heat claimed the lives of 90.

And the situation could get worse with the Met Office predicting heatwaves will become more regular and more intense in the UK.

As the Big Issue reports, it will be the vulnerable who are most at risk from high temperatures.

Traditionally, people would turn to fans and air-conditioners to help keep themselves and their families cool, but the World Economic Forum predicts that using air-conditioners increases energy bills by 42% and warns:

“As temperatures increase around the world, cooling is emerging as a new, basic need – even in countries that traditionally have not previously required such appliances.”

But the solutions to summer fuel poverty are similar to cold weather fuel poverty. While good insulation of housing helps reduce the need for heating systems, so it can also reduce the need for cooling systems too.

As Dr. Thomson explains:

“We know that housing plays a huge role in mitigating the risks of excessive indoor warmth.

“Our  research within Eastern and Central European countries found that overheating was most common in districts dominated by large apartment blocks, particularly if the building lacked cooling features such as shutters and tiled floors, natural shading from trees, and the ability to cross-ventilate.”

At the Centre for Sustainable Energy, experts have provided easy (and cheap!) advice on how to keep your home cool, but as Ian Preston from the CSE adds:

“A well-insulated and ventilated home will actually help with keeping the heat out too. If you’re able to invest in insulation do so, just make sure ventilation is considered at the same time.”

As Greenpeace UK’s energy campaigner, Georgia Whitaker, argues investing in a nationwide programme to green our homes will not only help us cope better when temperatures soar but also help bring down energy bills, tackle the cost of living crisis and slash carbon emissions to help tackle climate change, which is the driving force behind the increasing numbers of heatwaves we’re experiencing:

“The number one thing the government should be doing to beat the heat is insulating houses. Insulation keeps homes cool in the summer, warm in the winter and means people use less energy because less of it is wasted through draughty windows, walls and roofs.”

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“Keeping cool in the summer is just as important as staying warm in winter for many vulnerable groups.

“Yet energy bills remain at record highs meaning that running air coolers and fans will put a strain on household finances. In addition, efforts to insulate homes continue to lag behind what is required.

“Combined, this means that people will be subject to the full force of this summer’s heat waves.”

Children set to suffer as energy bills rocket

Sky News has exclusively revealed  new End Fuel Poverty Coalition calculations that show the impact of the energy bills crisis on households with children.

Figures predict that recent rises in energy bills will take the number of households with children in fuel poverty to over 2.5m from 1 April 2022.

The figure exceeds previous calculations and represents the number of children in fuel poverty doubling since 2019.

As a percentage of all households with children, this will rise from 19.4% in fuel poverty in 2019 to an estimated 38.6% after the next Ofgem Price Cap increase which comes in on 1 April 2022.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition predicts that over half (55.7%) of lone-parent households (855,938) will be in fuel poverty from 1 April 2022. The figure is 33.4% for couples with dependent children (1.69m).

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition told Sky News, which first reported on the figures:

The stark reality of life under the Government’s energy bill crisis is clear to see. Among the worst affected will be the most vulnerable, including children.

Expert studies show that living in fuel poverty can have a detrimental impact on children’s health, well-being and even their ability to learn.

The measures already announced by the Government hardly scratch the surface of the support needed.

We need to see a full package of measures to help those in fuel poverty now alongside urgent work to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and move the country to a secure, sustainable, non-fossil fuel based energy supply.

Public Health England report found that cold homes and poor housing conditions have been linked with a range of health problems in children. And a Childhood Trust report found that fuel poverty can also have a number of indirect impacts, such as lower rates of educational attainment in school, and a strain upon young people’s mental health.

Recently, the British Medical Journal reported:

Children growing up in cold, damp, and mouldy homes with inadequate ventilation have higher than average rates of respiratory infections and asthma, chronic ill health, and disability. They are also more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and slower physical growth and cognitive development.

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, commented:

It is deeply worrying that the number of families in fuel poverty is set to double this spring. These figures show that this year, a child in a single parent family is more likely to experience fuel poverty than not. That simply can’t be right and the UK government must do more to protect families.

We’re already seeing families having to make impossible choices between heating their homes and feeding their children, and parents we work with say they just don’t know what they’re going to cut back on next. A further increase in energy bills will leave even more children living in cold and damp homes, going to bed hungry, and missing out on the opportunities they need to grow and thrive.

The best way of supporting families through this crisis is by making sure benefits keep up with rising costs – but right now, they’re on track for a real terms cut. The UK government must act to support families and make sure benefits increase in line with inflation.

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